Voices from the Grave was directed by Kate O’Callaghan and Patrick Farrelly and written by Ed Moloney and Patrick Farrelly, based on the book by Ed Moloney. Made with the support of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland and Radio Telefis Eireann. First broadcast on RTE1 on October 26, 2010. It was the 2011 winner of the IFTA for Best Documentary at the 8th Annual Irish Film & Television Awards.
Dead men talking
24 October, 2010
A voice from beyond the grave will next week accuse Gerry Adams of the murder of Jean McConville. Liam Clarke previews a landmark documentary.
Gerry Adams’s efforts to obliterate the memory of his past will suffer a further blow next Tuesday when RTE screens the documentary Voices From The Grave.
The 83-minute film includes testimony from Brendan Hughes and other IRA veterans who worked with Adams during the height of the Troubles.
Hughes’s posthumous words are drawn from Boston College’s remarkable archive of taped interviews given by paramilitants for release after their deaths.
The journalist Ed Moloney — who set up the archive for the college — has published much of Hughes’s testimony in his book of the same name, but hearing Hughes’s words as he uttered them for posterity has an impact all of its own.
After the book came out, Sinn Féin spoke of Hughes’s depression towards the end of his life, and his heavy drinking.
They hinted that this was a vulnerable man who had been taken advantage of.
Listening to his voice — recorded seven years before he died in 2008 — dispels that theory.
The former IRA commander speaks evenly and confidently. He tells Anthony McIntyre: “In 1973, Gerry (Adams) was OC (Officer Commanding) of Belfast Brigade, I was Operations Officer. We met every day, planned what operations were going to take place . . . That was what we were doing on the day we were arrested.”
Later, Hughes describes how he personally ended a ceasefire by opening fire on troops and how he and Adams successfully plotted to oust the IRA leadership because they weren’t militant enough.
The Troubles peaked early and this was at the very height of the violence. Hughes speaks of his role in organising Bloody Friday in July 1972, in which 26 car bombs across Belfast killed 11 people and injured 130.
It was also a crucial moment in the life of David Ervine, the former PUP leader whose posthumous testimony is also featured in the film. The atrocity convinced Ervine to join the UVF and, as he puts it, “return the serve” as a UVF bomber.
He recalls waiting in a pub for the police radio reports of bombs, knowing what the target was: “Once the police message declared the target was clearly a nationalist target, the bar cheered. Little did they know that some of the people responsible were standing in the boozers right along with them.” He later adds: “There was never a moment when I said ‘Have I done the right thing here?’ That never happened.”
There is a coherent thread connecting the anger that led to terrorism, the opportunity that prison gave for a rethink and Ervine’s later search for a political way forward. By contrast, Adams’s account of his life lacks credibility.
He denies ever being in the IRA and this leaves the source of his influence over it a mystery — as well as making many of his friends feeling used and suspicious.
Hughes makes it clear that he does not condemn Adams for ending the campaign they both fought in, but criticises “the devious way that it was all brought about”. “There were people still dying when they (the IRA leadership) were talking. And these people that were dying, they should have known what was taking place.”
He adds: “It means that people like myself have to carry the responsibility of all those deaths. Gerry was a major, major player in the war and yet he’s standing there denying it.”
Hughes wrestles with his conscience and is haunted by the memory of the dead. He speaks of his suicidal feeling after the hunger strike and his conviction that the IRA leadership should have intervened to end it.
He recalls the death of Jean McConville, a widowed mother-of-10, who was abducted, murdered and secretly buried by the IRA.
Hughes identified her as an alleged informer, but now wants Adams to take his share of responsibility for her death. “The special squad was brought into the operation then — called ‘The Unknowns’. You know, when anyone needed to be taken away, they normally done it. I had no control over this squad. Gerry had control over this particular squad.”
Hughes also struggles with the thought that the IRA campaign failed to bring about either socialism or a united Ireland.
Concluding that Jean Mc Conville’s death — even if she was, as he believed, an informer — served no purpose. He wanted Adams to share his burden.
As his brother, Terry, put it: “Brendan treated Gerry like a brother.
“His family was the IRA and his brother was Gerry Adams.”
Ervine, on the other hand, appears satisfied with the outcome of the violence: “The most fundamental issue for the UVF was a single issue, the principle of consent. The UVF got what it wanted.”
The last two documentaries the Sinn Féin leader has co-operated with are a far cry from the uncomfortable subjects which will be aired next Tuesday. They depicted him talking about Jesus and pursuing his hobby of growing trees from seed.
Adams should ask himself if that is an adequate response to the questions which surround him.
VOICES FROM THE GRAVE
The documentary is in a playlist of 9 segments; each segment follows the last.